Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Carbs 101: Know When to Say When (and to Which Ones!)

Carbs have received a bad rap in the last 20 or so years, ever since the Atkins Diet craze, which led to a million other low-carb, high-other stuff diets. Since then, confusion about carbs has ruled, including exactly what they are and what they do—and don’t do for your body. If you are trying to lose weight, some people swear by cutting carbs. But did you know that zucchinis, kale, carrots and spinach all contain carbohydrates? Certainly a diet high in those veggies isn’t a bad idea if you are trying to lose weight…so what is the skinny on carbs? Most people know there are two types of carbs, but many just don’t get the key differences between them. Keep reading to better understand what carbohydrates do and which ones you should make sure you are getting plenty of in your daily diet.

Carbs: Let’s Break it Down
Your body, during the digestive process, breaks down carbs and converts them to glucose, which is the fuel that makes your body run. Excess glucose (what the body doesn’t immediately burn off) is converted to glycogen, and stored in the liver and muscles for later use (between meals, for example). But the body has a limit to how much glycogen it can store and so guess what the liver does with excess glycogen when it hits capacity? It converts it to fat.

The Bad and the Good
Simple carbs (bad carbs) include sugar and refined (white) flour, which means that anything made from these two ingredients is going to be loaded with simple carbs: soda, candy, white bread, white rice, white pasta, pastries, cakes, pizza dough…all are super high in simple carbs, with little to no dietary fiber.

And Now for the Good News (the OTHER type of Carb)
Remember that second type of carb? It’s called “complex,” and they contain high amounts of dietary fiber, as well as being rich in nutrients, vitamins and mineral. Complex carbs are those you get from whole grains, beans, legumes, and fruits and vegetables.

What the F? Fiber!
Why is fiber good for us? Fiber slows down the body’s absorption of carbs, providing your blood, brain and muscles with a consistent, efficient supply of energy. Unlike simple carbs, which cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket, and then plummet, causing the “sugar crash” that leads to more carb binging, high-fiber, complex carbs are like super fuel for our bodies. Why do low-carb diets say “fruit in moderation?” Well, you are getting more sugar in your orange, than you would in say, a serving of broccoli, so for that reason, vegetables generally beat fruit. But the benefits of the high-fiber content of that orange will outweigh the extra carbs you are getting from it, so don’t fret: fruit in moderation.

Remember this: Eat a balanced diet of lean protein, complex carbs and nutrient-rich fats (avocado, nuts, olives) for the most part, and go sparingly on simple carbs and nutrient-poor fats. That, combined with regular exercise and plenty of sleep, is a winning combination for good health.

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